What Is It Really Like To Live With OCD
Have you ever noticed how some mental illnesses are kind of romanticized? Deep down, in our hearts, we might know that mental illness really isn’t something to joke about. But if you don’t personally experience any type of mental health disorder, it’s easy to misunderstand and make assumptions about a condition.
This is true for most mental health disorders but it’s especially true for OCD. Because we often hear phrases like, “I’m so OCD!” uttered by people who love to clean or organize their things, it’s easy to assume that OCD isn’t too bad to live with. After all, most people wish they were a little bit tidier!
So, many people often say things like, “Oh, I wish I had OCD!” or “Ooh, do you want to come organize my house??” As a general rule, when people say these things, they don’t mean to trivialize a very real mental illness. Instead, thanks to our fallacious perception of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, many people are simply parroting our society’s definition of OCD. So, in this article, we want to cut through the noise and deconstruct our faulty definition of OCD so we can learn more about this mental illness and how it impacts people’s lives.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a serious mental illness that “affects 2.2 million adults, or 1.0% of the U.S. population,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. OCD can affect everyone equally; men and women, adults and children can all experience OCD. Studies conducted by the ADAA confirm that “the average age of onset is 19, with 25 percent of cases occurring by age 14. One-third of affected adults first experienced symptoms in childhood.”
OCD is characterized by the presence of vivid and unwanted intrusive thoughts. These thoughts can fixate on any theme-- for example, fear of contamination, fear of harming someone, or the fear of saying something offensive-- and they stick in a person’s brain.
If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head-- especially a song you really dislike!-- you can begin to get a picture of what it’s like to live with OCD. But imagine if you tried everything you could think of to get that song out of your head… and it still wouldn’t go away. You’ve tried replacing it with other songs. You’ve tried to think about something-- ANYTHING!- else. No luck. The song is completely stuck in your head without h0pe of escape.
Being stuck with a song you dislike would be annoying. But what if, instead of a song you dislike playing on repeat in your brain, it’s a soundtrack of your worst fears playing over and over? Everything you dread the most about yourself and the people you love-- that’s what playing on repeat in your mind.
For example, imagine that you’re the world’s biggest cat lover. You volunteer at animal shelters. You rescue cats in need. You have several cats of your own that you love more than life itself. But imagine if your brain suddenly started whispering, “You secretly want to kill your cats.” Or, “You don’t really love your cats. You’re going to abandon them just like the people you rescued them from.”
If you don’t experience OCD, a thought like that could pop into your head and you might respond with, “Wow, that was a terrible thought! Gosh, how awful!” It might leave you with a lingering sense of icky-ness before you shake your head, go on with your day, and forget all about it. But someone who lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder will fixate on those thoughts. They’ll get stuck in a loop of thinking, “What a terrible thought! Why on earth did that come into my head?!”
In reality, all of us have wacky or alarming thoughts at one time or another. Just as we have dreams that are disturbing or nonsensical, everybody occasionally has thoughts that freak them out. But we all know that, in reality, our fleeting thoughts and wacky dreams are not reflections of our identity. Why? Because our brains throw out random stuff sometimes; that’s just what they do. It doesn’t mean that we want to think about weird stuff or that those thoughts are indicative with the truest desires of our hearts. It’s just a goofy malfunction created by our brains.
This thought is comforting to many neurotypical people who are unbothered by the content of their occasionally wacky thoughts. But people who live with OCD often struggle to reach that step. When faced with a disturbing thought, someone who has OCD is likely to fixate on the horror that they had a disturbing thought at all.
They might worry that that thought is indicative of who they really are. As a result, someone who has OCD may become terrified by the prospect that they might secretly be a terrible person. This cycle of horror continues on a torturous loop that can only be broken by therapy.
This is only a brief snapshot of what it’s like to live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But as you can see from this example, OCD is not a joke. It has nothing to do with tidiness or organization and it isn’t a “fun disorder” to have.
So, if you or someone you love is experiencing any of the symptoms reflected in this article, you should know-- first and foremost-- that you are not a bad person and help is within reach. If you feel tormented by your intrusive thoughts, there is a way out of that loop.
You can take the first step by taking this free OCD test from Mind Diagnostics. This test is not a substitute for a professional diagnosis but it can provide you with an opportunity to assess your symptoms.
So, if you finish taking this test and you think you’re living with undiagnosed OCD, you can take advantage of the resources provided on the “results” screen of this test, including the contact information of therapists who are qualified to treat OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can feel debilitating but it’s important to remember that help is always within reach. So, if any of these symptoms resonate with you, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.